It's hard to overestimate how culturally important video arcades were in the '80s and '90s. If you were a kid or young adult during this period, there's a very good chance that you spent a significant chunk of your free time dropping quarters into coin slots and furiously mashing buttons under the glow of an arcade game's screen.
Of all my childhood memories, ones involving video games comprise a majority. I don't remember much before the age of 5, but I vividly remember waking up on my 5th birthday, excited for that night's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's, where I would play my first arcade game: the newly released Super Mario Bros.
It had such an impact on me that I even remember the game play itself; I didn't know that there was a jump button, so I just walked back and forth until I was killed by the first Goomba, three miserable times in a row. It was probably one of the most important events in my childhood.
It's no surprise that as folks in my generation reached business-starting age that bars featuring an assortment of retro arcade games started popping up across the country. Visit any big city and you'll find one. And yes, finally, we have one in Tampa.
Lowry Parcade is the creation of three lifelong arcade game lovers: Cliff Stevenson, Rob Leonard and Lux DeVoid, the latter being the owner of the nearby Mermaid Tavern. From the trio, a private collection of original arcade consoles — down to the cabinets, artwork and hardware — was assembled, 23 games in all.
There are three pinball machines, two "cocktail cabinets" (the sit-down, glass-top consoles), and 18 classic machines, with more on the way. All games, amazingly, are only a quarter a play. There's also a pool table, just to round things out.
There are the classics — Tron, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Galaga, Ms. Pac Man — as well as a few oddities, like Karate Champ. Kids of the '90s will appreciate the X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles four-players, as well as one of the best arcade games in all of history: NBA Jam. There's Gauntlet Legends for the RPG fans, Mortal Kombat 3 for the fighting game fans, and Area 51 for the shooter fans. How about some Tales From the Crypt pinball? The only thing that's missing is Polybius.
Delving even further into classic video game nostalgia, Lowry Parcade hosts the First United Church of Nintendo every Thursday, which features an array of vintage consoles, games, and bright, brilliant CRT screens to play on. I haven't been on a Thursday yet, but it's high up on my list.
The interior of Lowry Parcade is slightly odd, featuring old brick walls and stucco archways, which give it a vaguely Mediterranean feel. There's a small stage up front, where the Parcade features live music and DJs. It's not fancy, but it nails the old school arcade vibe.
Behind the bar, you'll find 22 beers on tap, with a constantly rotating selection. There are lots of locals featured, some of which — Angry Chair, Hidden Springs — are brewed just down the road. The glass racks behind the bar are built into old arcade cabinets, which is just a damn cool touch. Another 40-odd beers, ciders and sodas are available in bottles and cans, providing a more than ample selection.
It's a simple concept, and it works. The only downside is that a few of the games need a little repair. Player 3 on NBA Jam is a bit shoddy, while the blue car on Off Road doesn't steer at all. Tracking down original hardware can be a challenge, so I can easily chalk these up to works in progress. Overall, both the gaming and beer experiences at Lowry Parcade are quite good, and I expect both to only improve as time goes on and its popularity grows.
I don't expect the Lowry Parcade experience to resonate with everyone, but if you grew up in the '80s or '90s, this place was practically custom-built for you.
— [email protected]; @WordsWithJG.